27 November 2008 | bkoganbing
An American Success Story
Most of Irving Berlin's shows on Broadway were revues and not book type shows. For that reason they're not frequently revived. All of them contain topical jokes that only history majors like myself would get now. But the extreme topicality of This Is The Army and its World War I predecessor Yip Yap Yaphank guarantee you don't see this one revived too often no matter how many good songs come from it.
Even to do This Is The Army we have a threadbare plot of sorts. George Murphy is a song and dance man doing the lead in the Ziegfeld Follies when he gets his draft notice for World War I. Like Irving Berlin in real life, he offers to put his entertainment talents at the army's disposal. Murphy also marries Rosemary DeCamp at the same time he goes in the army.
Flash forward to a new World War and Murphy's son Ronald Reagan is going out with Joan Leslie who's the daughter of Charles Butterworth another performer from the Yip Yap Yaphank show back in the day. Reagan gets his draft notice just like dear old dad and he says let's put on a show for the boys. Of course dear old dad volunteers to help as do other veterans of the World War I show.
One thing that Warner's was smart about, they didn't give Ronald Reagan any singing or dancing to do. Reagan's talents such as they are were confined to behind the curtain.
A lot of Hollywood regulars are mixed with members of the original cast of actual soldiers who put on This Is The Army on Broadway. The score is also a mixed one with Irving Berlin allowing several of his older numbers mixed in with the Broadway score of This Is The Army. Most particularly God Bless America which Kate Smith had introduced in 1939 and sang in the film. It dwarfs all the other numbers in the score by comparison, in fact it's only rival in popularity in this film is Irving Berlin's soldier's lament of Oh How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning. And that originally comes from Yip Yap Yaphank. And of course that other barracks ballad telling what civilians will have to do without, the title song of the show and the film.
This Is The Army is dated flag-waving to be sure, but as Irving Berlin said in another song in another show, do you know of a better flag to wave? Both Yip Yap Yaphank and This Is The Army are the product of an immigrant kid who escaped poverty and persecution in the old world of Europe. If Irving Berlin's life isn't the American success story than I don't know a better example. He was grateful to his adopted country and these shows were his way of payback.
I doubt if B picture actor Ronald Reagan had the remotest conception that he would be sitting in the White House as a tenant one day and that he would be giving the nation's greeting to Irving Berlin on his 100th birthday. But that's an American success story too.